The Justice of Kings, the first in a new epic fantasy trilogy, follows the tale of Sir Konrad Vonvalt, an Emperor’s Justice – a detective, judge and executioner all in one. As he unravels a web of secrets and lies, Vonvalt discovers a plot that might destroy his order once and for all – and bring down the entire Empire.
As an Emperor’s Justice, Sir Konrad Vonvalt always has the last word. His duty is to uphold the law of the empire using whatever tools he has at his disposal: whether it’s his blade, the arcane secrets passed down from Justice to Justice, or his wealth of knowledge of the laws of the empire. But usually his reputation as one of the most revered—and hated—Justices is enough to get most any job done.
When Vonvalt investigates the murder of a noblewoman, he finds his authority being challenged like never before. As the simple case becomes more complex and convoluted, he begins to pull at the threads that unravel a conspiracy that could see an end to all Justices, and a beginning to lawless chaos across the empire.
The Justice of Kings – Richard Swan
First things first, a big thank you to Orbit and Nazia for sending me this ARC, not only is this my first big pre-release, but it was bloody signed and numbered. Then to really make me feel all sorts of ways I sat in shock as I was included in a list of not only some of my favourite bloggers but authors like RJ Barker and Anthony Ryan as they received this book as well. What is my life anymore?
This is a spoiler free review, I shan’t reveal any plot. Below is just some of my takeaways and if you can’t be arsed, there’s a tl;dr at the bottom.
This book is being described as a “Medieval Judge Dredd” of sorts, something that when I read it got me instantly excited. Parts Geralt of Rivea and some man named Matthew Shardlake (sorry for those that love whatever series he’s from). But as much as this may be correct in a way, and I do agree with the Geralt of Rivea similarities, this isn’t a medieval Judge Dredd, It’s actually medieval Eisenhorn. Medieval Eisenhorn isn’t something I knew I needed but now I have it I will fight anyone that tries to take it away. If you’re not familiar with the Eisenhorn series and honestly, I dont see a lot of Black Library discussion in my little slice of the community, so I cant imagine most of you are. Eisenhorn is a series of books set in the Warhammer 40k universe, Eisenhorn is an Inquisitor of the Imperium, mankind’s secret police. Inquisitors travel the galaxy hunting down traitors, heretics and Xenos, these men and women of the inquisition holding almost unlimited power to act as Judge, Jury and Executioner as they see fit. Justices and Inquisitors hold similar rolls in these books, acting as the outreaching hand of the Emperor to make sure its laws are followed. I wasn’t surprised to find out Swan is a massive fan of Abnett, and you can see that reflected in how he writes.
(The Eisenhorn series is written by one of my favourite authors of all time, Dan Abnett, and the series is now being adapted for television, I would wholly recommend trying this series out along with my favourite sci-fi series of all time, Gaunt’s Ghosts.)
First things first, quick shout out to another author hitting us those magnificent first sentences. Please authors, keep doing this. Its first sentences like this that instantly have my attention, that make me know this will be a book I want to continue.
“It is a strange thing to think that the end of the Empire of the Wolf, and all the death and devastation that came with it, traced its long roots back to the tiny and insignificant village of Rill”
As much as I think Swan did a great job at hitting all of the key elements of what is needed in a good fantasy book, what I would consider to be Swan’s area of expertise would be his character building, the characterizations of our main cast and the relationships between these people being what really made me enjoy this book, obviously on top of the excellent fight scenes, the incredible story, and the beautifully crafted world. The book revolves around two characters, Sir Konrad Vonvalt, the Emperors Justice. Konrad is meant to be the main focus of this tale, but this story actually centres on Helena Sedanka, Konrad’s clerk and the actual POV for this book, she is a nineteen-year-old street urchin that Konrad employed some years before. Konrad is exactly who I expected him to be from reading the blurb, incredibly smart, filled with the confidence that comes from a man that’s fully aware of his power and abilities, a narcissism that is to be expected of a man whose job it is to decide whether people live or die. It felt like I got the full range of everything from Konrad, his emotions, his thought processes, and him just wholly as a person pouring through the writing, Swan did an incredible job of portraying a character so vividly while from the POV of another. Helena was a wonderfully vibrant character to read and a wonderful narrator for this story, her emotions, reactions, her ups and downs felt perfectly realistic, and it also gave me this sort of coming-of-age trope that I love.
“Both he and his father had had to believe that Sovan citizenship, and what it represented, was an end in itself. How else could one have justified the horrors of the Reichskrieg? Vonvalt had embraced the ways of the Sovans with the Zeal of a convert, and though he was no fool, I knew that as a consequence of his adolescence – for the man had only been fifteen years old when he had gone to war – the very kernel of his worldview was softer and more vulnerable than any would believe.
These twos stories are strongly intertwined and the closeness between these two meant a lot of page time together. Something a lot of authors can struggle with is making those interactions feel realistic, their little touches, their conversations, if you cant imagine sitting in the room with these people and it feeling natural then it’s wrong. Too often we get conversations that feel robotic, cold, and forced, I always think about the Lost Fleet series from Jack Campbell, it doesn’t matter how good the action is or how well the plot is written, the conversation in that series never flowed well making it feel disjointed, unrealistic. Swan never suffered here, Helena and Konrad’s relationship was incredibly well written, its complicated nature written perfectly for who these characters were meant to be.
The plot of this story was solid, Swan giving nothing away as he allowed his story to slowly ramp up, the mysteries our protagonists investigated slowly becoming clearer as the story builds, rising to crescendo into such a bloody, tense, exciting ending, I struggled not to speedread the final 50 pages as everything started to hit the fan. Not only was the main story excellent but Swan introduced the themes and plotline for the rest of the trilogy masterfully, layering them beautifully under the main storyline, and he managed it with very little in the way of info dumps (I think there was maybe two paragraphs in the whole book that actually felt like an info dump). I also really loved how Justice of Kings ended, no massive cliff-hangers, Swan set up for the next book, and an ending to the one we were on, I will forever love authors that do this. I find Swan is another of those debut authors I just find incredible, this man has so much raw talent for storytelling that I truly cannot wait to see what this man is writing for us in a few years’ time as he continues to improve.
“Sir Otmar nodded vigorously, but he was almost certainly lying. These far-flung villages and towns, months’ worth of travel from distant Sova even by the fastest means, rarely practised Imperial law. It was a shame. The Reichskrieg had brought death and misery to thousands, the system of common law was one of the few good rubies to come out of an otherwise enormous shit”
I wish I could delve into the world building, the politics, and the story proper, but I don’t want to spoil anything, purely let you know this needs to be a book that you add to your TBR, make sure February 22nd is in the diary.
Ive already pestered Swan (sorry dude <3) for book two on twitter and I will continue to do so till he lets me read it.
Swan has built a dark and gritty world, filled it with beautifully written characters and lays out a master crafted story to create an incredible book that you can’t put down till long after bedtime. Read it.
The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan will be out on the 22nd Febrary 2022 and can be preordered on amazon already.